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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Phone:617-632-7753


An ovary is an egg-producing reproductive organ found in female organisms. It is often found in pairs as part of the vertebrate female reproductive system. Ovaries in females are homologous to testes in males. The term gonads refers to the ovaries in females and testes in males.

Major Function

Production of eggs (exocrine)

As female mammals develop within the womb, each ovary develops a number of immature eggs associated with groups of other cells called follicles. While mammals were thought to develop their entire supply of eggs prenatally and soon after birth, new evidence from laboratory mice has called this into question, showing that female mice in fact produce new eggs throughout their reproductive lifetime[1], However, there is no direct evidence showing that human females produce new eggs after birth. As the animal becomes reproductively mature (the process called puberty in humans), eggs will periodically mature and be released from the ovary (a process called ovulation) so that they will be available for fertilization by sperm. A fertilized egg resulting from union with a sperm becomes a zygote and then an embryo as it develops.

In humans, an egg launched from an ovary has to traverse a slight space before entering the fallopian tube and moving gradually down to the uterus. If fertilized, it performs implantation into the lining of the uterus and develops as the pregnancy continues. If the fertilized egg settles into the fallopian tube instead of the uterus an ectopic pregnancy will result. Ectopic pregnancy can also happen if a fertilized egg settles onto the cervix or onto the ovary itself, or if a fertilized egg passes through the gap between the ovary and the fallopian tube into the abdomen.

Hormone secretion (endocrine)

Animal and human ovaries also produce various steroid and peptide hormones. Estrogen and progesterone are the most important of these in mammals.

These hormones serve many functions:

Human anatomy

Ovaries are oval shaped and, in the human, measure approximately 3 cm x 1.5 cm x 1.5 cm. The ovary (for a given side) is located in the lateral wall of the pelvis in a region called the ovarian fossa. The fossa usually lies beneath the external iliac artery and in front of the ureter and the internal iliac artery.


In the human the paired ovaries lie within the pelvic cavity, on either side of the uterus, to which they are attached via a fibrous cord called the ovarian ligament. The ovaries are uncovered in the peritoneal cavity but are tethered to the body wall via the suspensory ligament of the ovary. The part of the broad ligament of the uterus that covers the ovary is known as the mesovarium.


There are two extremities to the ovary:

  • The end to which the uterine tube attach is called the tubal extremity.
  • The other extremity is called the uterine extremity. It points downward, and it is attached to the uterus via the ovarian ligament.

Vessels and nerves

Each ovary receives blood from the ovarian artery, which arises directly from the anterior abdominal aorta and the ovarian branch of the uterine artery that enters the ovary by way of the broad ligament and thus the mesovarium. The right ovarian vein drains to the inferior vena cava and the left ovarian vein drains to the left renal vein. The ovarian artery and vein are within the suspensory ligament of the ovary (infundibulopelvic ligament). Sources of innervation include the ovarian plexus.


Section of the ovary of a newly born child. Germinal epithelium is seen at top. Primitive ova are seen in their cell-nests. The Genital cord or genital ridge is still discernable in this young child. A blood vessel and an ovarian follicle is also seen


Additional images


  1. Johnson J, Canning J, Kaneko T, Pru JK, Tilly JL. (2004). "Germline stem cells and follicular renewal in the postnatal mammalian ovary". Nature. 428 (6979): 145–50. PMID 15014492. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)

External links

See also

Template:Female reproductive system Template:Endocrine system

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